It's been a Banner
Year for Whale Watching
ST. ANDREWS - It
feels a bit like old times on the Bay of Fundy, says retired marine biologist
Art MacKay of St. Andrews.
Whale watching tour operators
in the Passamaquoddy Bay area are reporting the best year for sightings they
can remember with customers almost guaranteed to see humpback, minke and
finback whales - even Atlantic right whales, of which only about 400 survive
"It's been spectacular," said Rydell Flynn of
Captain Riddle's Whale Watching and Deep Sea Fishing on Campobello Island. "The
best year we've seen for whale watching."
The number of
whales in the area that Campobello islanders call "the river" - between their
island and Eastport, Maine - recalls stories from years ago of people lying in
bed at night listening to them splash, he said.
hasn't been seen here a long, long time;' Flynn said.
Carolyn Leavitt, owner/operator of island Quest Marine
Whale Watching and Nature Cruises in St. Andrews, told a similar story.
"I'm just having an amazing year, it's quite
spectacular," she said, reporting "more than we've seen in 12
A pod of about 40 right whales between Campobello
and The Wolves islands last week especially excited Flynn and Leavitt.
Britt (baby herring) and krill, on which whales feed,
came into the Bay of Fundy with the winds and tides, drawing the whales after
them, they said. "The water is full of feed," Leavitt said.
No more whales than normal came into the Bay of Fundy
this year, said Laurie Murison, executive director of the Grand Manan Whale and
Seabird Research Station.
They came to areas that whale
watchers frequent following their food: zooplank ton for right whales, krill
and britt for humpbacks, minkes and finbacks.
distribution is different this year," Murison said.
you have people seeing whales where they would not normally," she said.
"They've moved inshore this year."
Whale watchers love it.
spectacular for them, they're not usually seeing that many," Murison said.
This many whales last frequented the area of The Wolves
Islands in 1980 and 1981, she said.
There might be 100
right whales in the Bay of Fundy in most years, but not 40 between The Wolves
and Campobello islands. "And that is completely dependent on their food
Murison places the total number of
Atlantic right whales at probably more than 400 now, up from the 350 to 400
scientists estimated several years ago. She hopes the captains of whale
watching tour boats take special care around them.
biggest thing to me to emphasize is that the right whales have their babies
with them," Murison said."If you're cruising through an area, you should go as
slow as possible."
I'M JUST HAVING AN AMAZING YEAR,
The calves, six to
nine metres, might float just under the surface awaiting their mothers' return.
People on boats might not even see them. Female right whales calve only every
They were hunted nearly to extinction. The
survivors today are extremely inbred, Murison said. They live 50 to 100 years.
Research since the 1980s does not go as far back as the normal life span of one
The whales might not number more than in most
years, but the places they are showing up this year still excites MacKay.
The whales and other creatures follow their food, which
for whatever reasons came to regions this year the way MacK ay remembers it 45
"I've been involved out here since 1964 "he
remembers whales splashing inshore around Campobello island and elsewhere along
with birds, bluefin tuna, basking sharks and other creatures people are noting
"That was not that abnormal before 1980," he said.
"Long about 1979, 1980, there was a huge shift in the way things happened out
He described Head Harbour Passage, the entry to
Passamaquoddy Bay between Campobello and Deer islands, as a "nutrient pump"
years ago. "It's plugged with whales, it's absolutely plugged with whales," he
said, referring to this year.
At one time, fishermen
erected herring weirs as far up the St. Croix River as The Ledge, just below
St. Stephen, but not anymore, he said.
"The stuff we
dropped in (the St. Croix River) drove things offshore," MacKay believes.
He cannot pin it to one thing, although St. Croix River
towns now treat their sewage and mills treat their effluent. The shutdown at
the Domtar pulp mill upriver in Baileyville, Maine, possibly had some effect,
Whatever happened, the phalaropes, a
seabird, returned to Passamaquoddy Bay after disappearing with everything else
about 30 years ago, he said.
A tiny copequid called
Calanus finmarchicus in Latin, along with krill, also returned. Whales eat
"They are the canary for the right
whales," MacKay said.
He does not dispute Murison's view
that the whales do not number more than normal this year.
Like the whale watching tour operators, he welcomes them
back to their old haunts rather than hanging around the mouth of the Bay of
"This year is more spectacular than anyone has
seen in decades,"he said."There's huge changes that took place this year.
Whale watching tour operators report
the best year they can remember with spectacular whale sightings every trip